President Trump has signed a bill imposing new sanctions on Russia, ending immediate hopes of a reset of U.S. relations with the Kremlin and marking a defeat for his administration, which had expressed concerns that the legislation infringed upon executive power.
In a statement outlining his concerns, Trump called the bill “seriously flawed,” primarily because it limits his ability to negotiate sanctions without congressional approval.
“By limiting the Executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together,” Trump said in a statement on Wednesday morning. “The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the President.”
“This bill will prove the wisdom of that choice,” he added.
White House officials said that the president signed the measure on Wednesday morning, nearly a week after it was passed by the Senate with a veto-proof majority. The bill was also approved in the House last week by an overwhelming bipartisan majority.
Trump said that he signed the bill, despite his reservations, for the sake of “national unity.” In a second statement accompanying his signing of the legislation, Trump called some of the provisions in the legislation “clearly unconstitutional.”
And he questioned Congress’ ability to negotiate sanctions based on its inability to approve the Republicans’ health care legislation.
“The bill remains seriously flawed — particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate,” Trump said. “Congress could not even negotiate a healthcare bill after seven years of talking.”
Russia has already retaliated against the U.S. for the new sanctions, announcing that it would order the U.S. Embassy to reduce it staff by 755 people and seize U.S. diplomatic properties.
In addition to adding sanctions, the bill requires congressional review for any actions the administration might seek to take to lift sanctions in the future.
The measure also imposes sanctions against North Korea and Iran for those countries’ nuclear weapons programs.
Trump noted that he supported tough measures to punish the three regimes, and said that he will honor the review period prescribed in the bill.
Trump added that he would “give careful and respectful consideration” to other provisions that direct the administration to undertake diplomatic initiatives and require the administration to deny entry to the U.S. of certain foreign individuals, without exceptions for diplomats.
“My Administration will give careful and respectful consideration to the preferences expressed by the Congress in these various provisions and will implement them in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations,” Trump said.
The White House had expressed concerns publicly and directly to lawmakers about the provision embedded within the bill that essentially prevents Trump from lifting existing sanctions without congressional approval, which comes after the administration had signaled that it hoped to ease tensions with Russia.
The administration also said it was worried about the impact of the bill on U.S. businesses doing business in Russia.
The new sanctions also further retaliate against Russia for its alleged meddling in the 2016 election, despite Trump’s continued denial that Russia was responsible for a government-led effort to influence the campaign, a conclusion reached last year by the U.S intelligence community.
Trump has called the ongoing investigations in Congress and by a special counsel into Russian interference in the 2016 election a “witch hunt.” He has also repeatedly insisted that while Russia could have been responsible, other countries might also have been at fault.
That Congress would tie Trump’s hands on this issue reflects a deepening concern about the administration’s posture toward Russia, which critics have characterized as naive.
In a statement late last week, the White House signaled that Trump would eventually sign the measure, and a White House official added that the administration had worked to negotiate critical elements of it.
Yet even as Putin moved quickly to retaliate against the U.S., Trump has not issued any statement — written or otherwise — on the Kremlin’s actions.